Blue Stratocaster

During the 2007 Superbowl half-time show Prince played three guitars. He started with his trusty Madcat, and ended with his purple symbol guitar. In between, he performed All Along The Watch Tower and the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” with this light blue Stratocaster. It wasn’t the first time Prince was seen with this guitar – he also used it in the summer of 2006, most notably at Bryant Park, New York – which was part of the Good Morning America concert series. There are dozens of photos of that event here.

Prince was also seen playing this guitar on Saturday Night Live in February 2006 – it was his guitar of choice for a short period in the run up to Superbowl where it became water damaged. That damage didn’t render it unplayable, it made another appearance in June 2007 when Prince performed with Sheila E. at the ALMA awards.

2007 will long be remembered for Prince’s 21 night residency in London. He rocked the O2 arena playing the same combination of guitars as at the Superbowl, which included this Strat. The latest video footage I can find of Prince with this guitar is on the Jay Leno show on the 26th March 2009.

Paisley Park’s twitter post featuring the blue Stratocaster

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The last guitar Prince played

For reasons that may never be revealed, Prince was not playing guitar in the final months before he died. Some have speculated that the weight of the guitar on his shoulders and back was causing some pain, others have said that he was suffering from pain in his hands. The Piano & A Microphone tour was entirely focused on, well, his voice and his piano accompaniment. During his DJ party at Paisley Park on 17th April 2016 Prince showed off his latest custom made guitar but said that he couldn’t play it at the moment because he needed to concentrate on his piano playing.

All this means that possibly the last guitar Prince ever played, and certainly the last one he played in public, was this unlikely instrument – a white Collings 290. It was owned by Steve Morgan, a luthier in a guitar store in St. Paul, Minnesota. Steve was playing with a band at a Ray Charles tribute event at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre on March 12th 2016, and Prince was in attendance.

Prince made his way to the stage and after a quick discussion with Steve, he asked to take the Collings 290, he played along with the band, and then left the stage as quickly as he arrived.

Mick Sterling, producer of the Ray Charles show recalled to the BBC:

“We’re playing, and the piano player Scottie Miller is doing a great solo. All of a sudden I hear a guitar, and I’m thinking it’s our guitar player Steve Morgan, but it’s not. Then I look … and there’s Prince, playing the solo. You know, Prince can play any style, but he played this beautiful, lots of space blues, and it was perfect. He just kept playing the solo, so as the bandleader I’m saying ‘keep going, keep going … you know, as long as you wanna go, Prince.'”

The Collings is a strange choice for Prince, especially given that there was a spare Telecaster on the stage. My guess he chose it because Steve Morgan has been playing it – so it was plugged in and tuned up, and meant Prince could enter with the minimum of fuss.

The Collings 290 is not a cheap guitar at close to $3000.  It has a solid Mahogany body and P90 pickups as standard, although it looks like Steve Morgan may have changed the pickups in his. The high cost is apparently justified due to the quality of the electrics. Although $3k may be out of reach for some musicians, it’s not an unreasonable price to pay for a guitar…….until that is, Prince picks up and plays it. This guitar has been listed for auction with a guide price of $60k – $80k. At the time of writing the bid is at $47k.

I can understand paying a high price for a guitar Prince owned – but a guitar that he picked up and played for a few minutes?

[update] The Collings final selling price was $156,250

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The MadCat

Outside of the Prince fan community, he is most associated with his iconic Cloud and Symbol shaped guitars.  However, it is the Madcat that Prince fans often most revere.

At the dawn of his career Prince was seen with a variety of guitars, including a Gibson L6S in early videos & TV performances, and a Fender Telecaster on his first tour. There are conflicting stories about where Prince acquired this cheap Telecaster copy, known as the MadCat.  The most popular belief is that it was at a gas station, but some accounts suggest it came from the Knut Koupee Guitar shop in Minneapolis. Either way it quickly became his primary axe, and today bears the battle scars of a well used, well loved guitar.

The MadCat was originally made in Japan by H.S. Anderson in the 1970s. It was produced under three different company logos – H.S. Anderson, Hohner, and Bill Lawrence.  Prince bought the Hohner version (which was exactly the same as the H.S. Anderson, except with a Hohner logo in the same pearloid effect lettering as used by H.S. Anderson).

The body was made from a central strip of walnut, Japanese sen (similar to ash) sides, and a flame maple top.  It was fitted with leopard skin pattern scratch plate, a Strat style bridge, and the headstock was reminiscent of the classic Fender shape.

Photos appear to indicate that he started playing it regularly in 1981. Once he found success Prince had several copies made, including modified versions that were used to spray the audience during the Purple Rain tour in ’84/’85. It is impossible to determine if the one now displayed at Paisley Park is the original model, but based on the patterns of wear to the body it is definitely the one that Prince was using during the most recent years, which includes at the Super Bowl half time show in 2007, and the performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the RnR Hall of Fame in 2004.

There have been many re-issues of this iconic guitar over the years, including from Hohner and the original builder.

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According to the Paisley Park Tour Guitar and Bass book, Prince paid $30 for this guitar. Today it is priceless. It is permanently displayed behind glass in the atrium at Paisley Park.

 

 

Links

Paisley Park payed tribute to the Madcat in a tweet in 2017